Music Royalties – The Basics in South Africa

As a performer, artist, singer, songwriter or musician we primarily work on freelance basis, we are our own bosses and our music (product) is our business. And yes, we have said this many times before, you have to treat your music career as a business.  This means that much of the work we do comes down to us, how well we can market and punt ourselves and how much hype we can create around our brand which is not always an easy task. We need to know the costs of creating music and we need to know how we need to calculate our return on investment.

Probably one of the most important things we have to know as a freelancer is when we’re going to actually see some of that all important money that we’ve earned or are owed, and sometimes we can find this a daunting task.

One of the main sources of our income comes from royalties.  However, it can get confusing as we hear a lot of terms thrown around like “intellectual property”, “creative property”, and other things like “publishing and performance rights”. Beyond this there are other terms like “master copy” and other terms which we as artists HAVE to know.

We’ve decided to go through a list of these terms, make  them relatable, and tell you how this relates to you receiving your royalties. We also want to let you know HOW to apply for your royalties.

First, lets list some of the common terms you will hear when talking about royalties:

Author – The creator of any work that can be copyrighted. In the music realm, this usually pertains to the person who creates the lyrics of the song 

Blanket License – A type of broad license that allows the end user (such as a Radio station) to use any or all of the songs in a Performance Rights Organization’s library, as much or as little as they like. Licensees typically pay a large annual fee for the license.

Catalog  – All the songs owned by a music publisher considered as one collection. If a songwriter has not assigned or licensed his or her own works, they are considered to be the songwriter’s catalog.

Commission – Percentage of income paid by musical artists or actors to their representative.

Composer – One who writes the music to a song or for an instrumental track.

Composition – A musical work; the art of writing music.

Copyright – The exclusive rights granted to authors or original creator/s of a song.

Copyright Infringement – The unauthorised use of a copyrighted work. 

Exclusive Publishing Agreement – A written agreement allowing a specific music publisher to publish some or all of the songs by a songwriter or composer for a certain period of time. 

Intellectual property – Intangible property that is the result of creativity, such as patents, or copyright.

ISRC Code – A unique number assigned to each new song which is officially released for tracking purposes

Master – The original master recording. The original media type or form, from which dubs or copies are made.

Mechanical Rights – A right given, allowing a musical piece work (song) to be legally reproduced onto different mediums such as CDs, tapes, computer hard drives, cell phones, Mp3 players, on-demand streaming services  and other forms

Mechanical Royalties – The payment from a record company to a songwriter or publisher when the mechanical right is used 

Needletime Rights  – Needletime Rights are record labels and recording artists’ rights. Needletime Rights royalties are royalties paid to: recording artists for the public performance of their commercially released recorded performances; and record labels’ for the public performance of their commercially released sound recordings.

Performance Royalties – The income earned from a song on radio, television, concerts, and other public performances of music.

Recording Artist – A person that performs songs in a studio-like setting for the purpose of recording songs and releasing them to the public. A recording artist usually performs music created by other songwriters and composers (e.g. A Hip-Hop Artist recording on a beat – Drake). However, a Recording Artist can also be a songwriter and create and perform their own music (e.g. Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran)

Royalty – The income earned from the sales of the record or song.

Songwriter – A songwriter is someone who is involved in creating a song that usually focuses on lyrics and a melody

Now all this may seem a little bit overwhelming, but really there’s nothing to be afraid of, in fact, these are some must know terms, so get used to them now and learn them well .

So now we know what royalties are, let’s just delve into that for a second – Royalties exist so that when your song is used, or your film is shown,  you get paid for that artwork being put into a public space, and unless you have given permission for it to be done for free, a company or individual is liable to face legal action if they did not pay you for it.

So How Do You Apply To Get Your Royalties In South Africa?

We have 4 organisations who handle the types of royalties for performing and for creating music.

RISA (Recording industry of South Africa) is the first port of call. These are the people who handle the creation of ISRC codes, as mentioned above, the unique code given to a song or album released for public consumption. The code is a form of an identifier to the song and is used to track where songs are played, especially when streamed, downloaded or played on radio

Next up is SAMRO (South African Music Rights Organisation). These guys deal with performing rights and royalties and handle the payment of money owed to artists and collaborators whose music has been on radio , TV, film or other media in the public space. A Radio or TV station has to let SAMRO know that a song is added to their roster, and they will pay a blanket license fee to ensure that the artists are paid for their work being on air.

SAMPRA (South African Music Performance Rights Association) is the organisation which handles needletime rights and royalties, which pertains to people involved in the production of a song such as the recording artist and record label 

CAPASSO (Composers, Authors and Publishers Association) deals with Mechanical Rights and Royalties. They are an organisation that administers the mechanical right in the composition’s copyright (i.e. the right that arises when a musical work is reproduced or transferred from one format to another) and distributes the royalties to their members

Next Step – Sign Up!

Now that you know some of the important terminology regarding music rights and royalties, the next step is to sign up to all of these agencies so that you can protect your music and to start receiving royalty income.

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